151 days after the EP elections, the European Union should today get the 12th Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker. After all the problems, insinuations and controversies Slovenia too got its commissioner. This post will be held by Violeta Bulc, who successfully underwent Monday’s hearing. The naming process was very difficult and, unfortunately, Slovenia emerged very ridiculed. Some other candidates were also controversial (Jonathan Hill, Tibor Navracsics, Miguel Arias Cañete), however not so much as the Slovenian candidate. In any case, it’s no use crying over split milk. What can we therefore change until 2019, when the next Commission would be named, to minimize any future problems?
But first let’s start at the beginning, with the new Parliament. They tried to convince us that “This time is different”. Different because, the citizens were supposed to “directly” elect the president of the Commission, for the first time in the history of the EU. I use the quotation marks because we didn’t directly elect the president of the Commission. As always, the President was chosen by the heads of State and confirmed by the Parliament. The electors therefore (as we do in the case of national governments) elected the President and the Commission indirectly through our directly elected MEPs.
I have to admit that I was very sceptical around this campaign from the very beginning and, up to now, I still didn’t change my opinion. The claiming was very risky and it could provoke more harm than good. The creators of the campaign played a Russian roulette that, luckily, in the end ended good, as the EP elected the candidate of the winning party. However, the first reactions of the heads of State weren’t very encouraging.
However, this is not the only problem of the “spitzencandidate” system. Even if we are talking about European elections, we are still choosing among national parties. Because of that we are usually not aware to which European political group belongs the party. The Slovenian parties Positive Slovenia, Verjamem, Dream job and DeSUS are a nice example of this problem as before the elections we didn’t know their European political affiliation.
The nomination process of the Commissioner unveiled another Slovenian problem. The process, where the only limit for the government is the loose definition of the “perfect Commissioner” in the Treaties is not enough. If you add the period of governmental vacuum where the outgoing government has limited powers you obtain the (auto)candidacy of Alenka Bratušek, the following rejection by the EP and the embarrassment in front the whole Europe.
But we are just humans. We make mistakes from which we should learn to avoid them in the future. What can we therefore learn from the mistakes we made during and after these elections? What can we change before the next ones?
Slovenia has to change the naming process for its own commissioners to avoid the shame provoked by the (auto)nomination of Alenka Bratušek.
Even if we are talking of European commissioners, there are not much limits on the EU level. The only condition is that Commissioners have to be “chosen on the ground of their general competence and European commitment from persons whose independence is beyond doubt.” (Article 17(3) of the Treaty of the EU). What does this mean, depends on the interpretation of each State. The Treaty specifies also that the European Council has to take into account the results of the EP elections when naming the EC President. Other than that the countries have quite free hands.
How should we therefore name the Commissioner candidate from Slovenia? Every European political group participating in the elections (not the national party) have to name its own “spitzencandidate”. In the case that this group is elected to the EP this candidate would be the official Commissioner candidate for that group. The list of candidates is then sent to the President-elect of the Commission to choose the official nominee.
In this case the government is just the formal proposer, while in fact the nominees are elected by the voters. In this case the parties would be responsible to propose good candidates as otherwise the electors could not vote for that party.
However, changes are needed also on the EU level. Beside the need to decide common EU rules regarding the nomination process of Commissioners and clearer rules regarding the hearing process (the fact that the second Slovenian nominee had just one week for her preparation, because we needed to elect the Commission, undermines the importance of such hearings) we also need to ask again ourselves if we really need 28 commissioners. The Treaty of Lisbon foresaw the reduction of the number of Commissioner, but the Member States decided to drop this. Maybe is time to start again this debate.
We have 5 years until the next European elections. Nonetheless we should address this changes already now. Otherwise the elections will “surprise” us and nothing will change. Only a fool would make the same mistake twice. Therefore, to not be fools we need to change something.